Meryell frowned at Charter for a long moment before saying, “You think something’s happened to our man?”
The other elf nodded slightly before she replied, “I wasn’t worried about it when we were transferred, but all of the agents and scouts under me were sent orders about the move. He should rightly have been here by now.”
“Hmm.” Turning to her right, Meryell laid a hand on the map of the area that Charter had laid out over the table in the room she’d taken as her office in the keep. She scanned it for a moment then tapped the notation for Three Trout camp, which was where she knew the other elf had been working from previously in the region. “He left from Three Trout? Or from when you were located at North Gate weeks back?”
“North Gate,” replied Charter, moving up to stand next to her. “Why do you ask?”
“Trying to get a grasp of things,” muttered Meryell. She reached across the map to tap a finger on North Gate and asked, “Did he know about the move from here?”
Frowning, she inquired, “What was his mission?” When there wasn’t an immediate response, Meryell turned to Charter and found the woman pressing her lips together into a white line. “Charter?”
Oh, she knew that tone. That I can’t really tell you shit tone of voice.
“So fucking help me,” she growled under her breath, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling before lifting a hand to slam it down on the table surface. To her credit Charter didn’t twitch and that showed exactly why she was one of the Nightingale’s main eyes and ears. “I don’t know what orders you get from Leliana, Charter, and I think it’s a load of nugshit that you’re about to make me pull fucking rank on you,” snarled Meryell. “It’s no skin off my tits if you tell me or not because I will find out.”
She then leaned forward, getting in the other elf’s face and spat, “But every damned minute you dance around the matter is one fucking more where we don’t know where our man is. Now what was he investigating?”
Charter blinked several times (but didn’t move an inch otherwise) before she sighed and only then did Meryell move back out of the other woman’s space. “Officially,” she explained, “he was gathering information about a lead we could press on an Orlesian noble.”
Meryell hissed, “ Fucking e’lu’verelan ,” before gesturing for her to continue with an added, “And the real story?”
“A possible traitor.”
“He was getting the proof.”
Scowling, Meryell spat, “ Fuck . Alright.”
Turning to lean on the table and stare down at the map for a moment, she asked, “I’m assuming you lot have dead drops in places all around the region? Just in case someone can’t get their ass back to camp?” When she didn’t get an immediate reply, she turned to look at Charter and found the other elf looking at her in surprise. Snorting, she asked, “You not get the memo that I’m a thief ?”
“Don’t you mean was ?”
Meryell just grinned wickedly at her and Charter laughed before saying, “Of course. You keep in practice.”
“A thief who doesn’t keep in practice is a dead thief the next time they’re on a job. So…dead drops.”
Nodding, Charter stepped back into place next to her and quickly pointed out several places on the map. None of which were marked, of course, just in case the map fell into enemy hands. It was a little amusing how often she found that certain Fang tactics were very similar to Inquisition ones. “If he used one,” she then said, tapping near the bottom of the map just southeast of Three Trout, “it was likely this one. It’s buried deep within a set of rocks on a small hill close to the water.”
Absently Meryell noted that it was practically directly south of the directions Hawke had given them to the cave her Warden was supposedly hiding in.
“We’ll be heading that way soon,” she commented idly. “That mother fuck of rift that was in the lake comes first so it stops bringing the dead back. So, leave us that dead drop and the whole area south and east of Three Trout.”
“Done,” said Charter with a sharp nod. She then tapped her fingers on the edge of the map and added, “I’ll send some of my men to check on the other drops. My quietest.”
“No,” hissed Meryell, cold rage abruptly taking over her again. She reached out to tap a finger on the village of Crestwood and growled, “I think I have a different job for your quietest .”
The other elf arched her eyebrows, looking honestly surprised at the anger. After a moment she said quietly, “You want the Mayor.”
“I want him bloody yesterday ,” Meryell spat back. “We don’t know the full score of his crimes yet as there’s been no news from the village. He lied to us though…and I can put pieces together.”
Charter turned to give her a long look before she stepped back and lifted a closed hand up over her heart in a salute, her head dipping forward. “We will find him, Inquisitor,” she said in a firm tone and Meryell believed her by the sheer gleam in her eyes alone.
The e’lu’verelan had a damned good spy in this one.
“How else can he face justice?” asked the other elf with a smirk before she turned and opened the door to leave the room, shouting names as she walked out into the main part of the keep. Meryell shook her head after she was gone and turned back to the map, staring down at it for a long moment. At least until she heard footsteps from behind her and automatically started to reach for the dagger that rode across her hips.
“Just me, sweetheart,” Varric noted quietly and she relaxed, turning her head to smile at him. He just grinned then jerked his head in the direction Charter had gone. “You sounded mighty Inquisitorial in there.”
Meryell blinked then asked, “Were you listening at the door?”
The dwarf just whistled innocently before he jerked his head slightly towards the western wall of the room, saying airily, “There might be a decent crack in the corner of this wall that hasn’t been found yet. Right at ear level for a short person sitting on a crate to listen to.”
Snorting at his very broad way of answering her question, she said, “Let’s be sure to inform someone about that before we leave. You get to do the honors since you found it.”
Varric chuckled in response before saying, “I’ll be sure to point it out to Charter since it’s her office.”
“Good,” she replied. Then Meryell looked back at the map and asked quietly, “You really think I’m doing well, Varric?”
“Swears, I listen to a lot of people in the tavern and when they come through the hall. The nobles may not always have nice things to say but that’s them. Every actual serving member of the Inquisition that I’ve overheard speak of nothing but good things.” He leaned an arm on the table then, asking, “You think you’re not?”
Shrugging, she replied, “I don’t know . I’ve never led anything before really. I mean, small parties of us Fangs on missions that required more hands, sure.” Shaking her head, Meryell went on, “But this isn’t a singular fucking mission, Varric.”
“Look here,” he said, reaching out to cover her hand with his. Varric then lifted his other hand to waggle a finger in her face as he asked, “Are you going to listen or am I going to have to scold you like a child?”
Chuckling, she replied, “I’m listening, Da.”
His response was to immediately swipe at her shoulder before he rested his hand there. “Now look,” Varric began, “you know you’re not doing any of this on your own. You’ve got all of us. Me, Curly, Ruffles, Seeker…the whole lot. We’re here to help you no matter what title you have. We’re here for Meryell who just so happens to be Inquisitor, not the Inquisitor Meryell.”
“And if I start letting being in charge get to my head?” she asked with a smile.
“I think between all of us we can knock sense back into you if that happens. We’ll even let Curly kiss the bruise better later.”
Meryell snorted then said, “I’m glad you’re here to call me on my bullshit, Varric.
He laughed in reply before noting, “As Hawke would say, bullshit is my speciality. Now…what do you say we go figure out what happened to these folks and close this rift?”
“I’m think that sounds like a damned good plan.”
“Andraste’s flaming tits, that’s rank,” muttered Meryell as they made their way down into the formerly watery ruins of Old Crestwood. It smelled like a mix of mildew and death from the potent mixture of rotting wood, dead water plants, and the corpses of the drowned.
They’d already marked one set of bodies inside the house furthest up the hill, Meryell carefully drawing a simplistic version of the Inquisition’s eye with a piece of white chalk she’d snitched from one of the merchants while helping him move into Caer Bronach. Once they got back to the village, she’d let someone know that they’d marked the bodies. Probably that Chantry Sister they’d briefly talked to.
“Rank,” commented Dorian, “is far from the word I would use to describe that smell, darling. I’m really not certain my nostrils will ever recover.”
“Breathe through your mouth,” growled Cassandra from where she was walking ahead of them.
“Sound advice, dear See…oh.”
Meryell turned to look at him and frowned at the odd look on his face. “Dorian?”
“Something wrong, Sparkler?” asked Varric from behind them.
The mage frowned deeply before he replied, “It may be nothing but there is an odd feeling about. Like a piece of the Veil come away.”
“Or perhaps it is a demon,” commented Cassandra. As they all turned to look at her, she pointed at the ruin of a house ahead of them and it’s one glowing red occupant.
Varric whistled lowly before saying, “No demon like I’ve ever seen, Seeker. We certain it’s dangerous?”
“If I’ve learned anything from overhearing baba and the other mages,” commented Meryell before the older woman could reply, “even the most benign spirits can turn dangerous.”
“Is that an argument against greeting our spectral friend?” asked Dorian.
Shaking her head, she replied, “Fuck no. I want to know what a spirit is doing floating around here. You usually don’t get spirits in the real world; they tend to not come here unless forced.”
Cassandra’s frown was dark and deep, showing her feeling about the situation, but she nodded her head slowly. “Very well,” she said, “we will…greet…this spirit. I will strike it down if it attempts anything.”
“We expect nothing less,” muttered Varric and Meryell smacked her hand against his shoulder. The dwarf shook his head before saying at a normal volume, “We thank you for protecting us from the possible demon seeking to eat our faces. Better, Swears?”
“Two points out of five for effort,” she replied with a laugh as Cassandra scowled. Meryell then jerked her chin forward and added, “Let’s go see what it wants.”
It turned out that trying to figure out what a random spirit wanted while Cassandra practically loomed behind her was just the sort of fucked up situation that put Meryell on edge.
“You!” exploded the spirit in its echoey voice, eerily reminiscent of the effect red lyrium had had on Varric and Cassandra in that terrible future. “I order you to tell me why nothing here heeds my commands.”
Glancing cautiously over at Dorian, who just shrugged in response, she turned back to the spirit and asked, “How about this…you answer me first whether you’re spirit or demon.”
“Demon?” Given the offended tone of voice, she got the impression that this one fell solidly into the former category. It then seemed to lift its…chin (or the equivalent thereof)…proudly as it said, “I am called to higher things.”
Meryell frowned at that and asked, “Then what the fuck are you? Everything I know of spirits says that they embody certain things. Justice, compassion, knowledge…”
The spirit scoffed, “I am more than such things. I am Command.”
“And more than slightly pompous,” muttered Varric, making Dorian snort to cover an obvious laugh.
As she rolled her eyes at the pair of them, the spirit asked, “What of you? I felt your coming. There is something alike in us.” It floated forward then and she took a wary step back, slightly disoriented by its hazy shape and the distinct lack of any facial features. “Yet you fight it. War with it. Fear it. Why?”
It’s like Cole , Meryell realized dazedly. It senses things within us. She wondered too if this was what he had looked like before he had pressed himself into human form, before spirit had turned into flesh.
“I command, yes,” she replied softly, “but I do not want to.”
“You are not weak,” noted the spirit, its tone slightly confused.
Shaking her head, Meryell said, “No, no, I’m not weak, Command. Mortals are…different…from spirits. Perhaps that’s the issue.”
Grateful that that topic was waylaid – she certainly didn’t want to discuss her lingering insecurities around her position with a random spirit – she turned her head to look at Cassandra with one eye. “Dangerous?” she asked.
“As you said,” replied the woman in a slightly clipped tone, “even benign spirits can turn dangerous. There is always the chance for harmless spirits to become a demon.”
That made Command scoff. “Nonsense! I am in control of my fate!”
Cassandra blinked before saying, “I was not addressing…” She then trailed off into a frustrated sigh and gestured with one hand for Meryell to go on, shaking her head as she looked away. The way she was now relaxed and not holding the tense stance that she’d settled into upon their approach, made Meryell able to relax as well.
“What is so dreadfully distressing about our world?” asked Dorian towards the spirit.
Command turned itself towards him, scoffing as it said, “I did not order you to speak but I shall answer. This world ignores me! I order the rocks to part, but they do not. I bid the sky draw close, and it stays still! I don’t know how you mortals stand it.”
“Practice, dear Command,” replied Dorian with a small smile. “We have little other choice.”
Shaking her head, Meryell asked, “You’re here instead of in the Fade. Why?”
“I will not be denied. I refused to leave until something obeys my orders!”
She blinked then turned to look at Dorian and Varric in turn, who both nodded, then glanced back at Cassandra. The woman’s face was stone at the moment but she gave a bare nod of agreement and Meryell turned back to the spirit. She bowed slightly, just a little dip in the loosest of formal styles, and said, “Then we will help you. We pledge ourselves to your service.”
Command bobbed for a moment and – if it had a face – she thought it might be actually happy. “Excellent!” it exclaimed. “I have but one command: a creature made of rage had the gall to chase me across the lake. Destroy it in my name and be rewarded!”
Cassandra snorted at that and said, “Killing a demon is worthy of us at least.”
Meryell nodded and inclined her head to the spirit. “As you command,” she murmured before turning and leaving the ruins of the house. As soon as they were some distance away, she clapped her hands together as she said, “Folke’ll be fucking jealous .”
“For speaking to a spirit?” asked Cassandra. “Does he not do so in the Fade?”
“Not for speaking. It’s a little harder for him than other mages because of how little magic he has but he’s seen plenty of fucking spirits. No, no, I mean knowing there’s a sodding spirit of Command . That’s not one that I’ve ever heard of and I’ve eavesdropped on a fucking lot of conversations about spirits.”
“Excitement aside,” piped up Dorian suddenly, “I believe there is another set of bodies in the house to our right.
The whole group instantly sobered at the reminder that they were standing in what equated to a graveyard and Meryell nodded.
“Alright,” she said. “Let’s mark it and see what else we can find. Not to mention figure out how we’re still supposed to get to that fucking rift.”
“Fuuuuckiing cunt! ” howled Meryell as her left arm spasmed from the effort of closing the rift. She gripped her forearm in her right hand as she felt the connection that always snapped together between Mark and rift sear into her. Then she curled her left hand fingers, snarling wordlessly, and jerked her arm back to break the connection with her whole body.
As soon as it broke, the rift crackled away into nothing and she hit her knees, breathing hard.
“Maker’s breath,” breathed Varric as he rushed over to her, slinging Bianca almost haphazardly over his shoulder. He cautiously took her left hand in his, turning it over to look at where the Mark still glowed through the leather of her half glove, then reached out to touch her cheek with his other hand. “Swears? Sweetheart, you with us?”
Dorian came splashing up onto the center area of the room out of the water that circled the area a moment later, dropping to his knees next to her. “ Fasta vass ,” he cursed as he gestured, drawing meager healing magic to his hands before he pressed them against her weakly bleeding side. “You are a damned fool, darling! If I didn’t care for you so much, I would…” He trailed off into incoherent grumbling after that, his eyes focused as he worked to fix what little he could.
Meryell just smiled dazedly at Varric and nodded. “I’m here,” she replied quietly. “Hurts like a bitch .”
“That,” intoned Cassandra with a thunderous growl as she stormed over, “is what happens when you step away from me and decide to take on a demon on your own!”
“I made a decision!” snapped Meryell. “And I didn’t even get fucking hit , Cass! It’s the damned ass fuck of a wound from the rage demon that tore my back open!”
“Ass fuck?” echoed Varric with a strained laugh.
Cassandra grunted before looking down at Dorian. “Is it?” she asked.
“Yes ,” replied the mage with an angry growl. Meryell then felt the warmth of the healing magic fade as he continued, “I’ve done what I can. It should hold until we get out of here and can get back to the keep.”
“Hawke,” insisted Meryell. “We go to Hawke.”
“Are you out of your mind?!”
Varric lifted a hand and said quickly, “Hold up, Sparkler, I get where she’s at. Hawke’s a healer.”
Cassandra let out a surprised huff of breath before she commented, “I was under the assumption from the description of her magic in your Tale of the Champion that she was more of a primal focus.”
“I also wrote that she let Blondie go , Seeker,” hissed the dwarf, his eyes narrowed slightly. His tone turned bitter as he added, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but healers tend to be the first ones targeted when templars come around. She already had enough of a target on her back then without me adding another.”
Meryell nodded in agreement before adding, “It’s why the healer’s tent is always in the center of any Fangs camp.” She then reached out to grasp Varric’s shoulder then held out her other hand towards Dorian. As the mage scowled at her, she said firmly, “So long as you can still curse, you’ll probably fucking live. That’s the rule of any soldier. So you want to help my ass up and we’ll go kill two birds with one stone?”
“Very well,” grumbled Dorian before he gently took her upper arm in one hand and laid his other hand against her lower back. Varric shifted on her other side, slowly standing, and together the two of them lifted her up from the ground. As soon as she was standing steadily, the mage commented, “But I will claim no responsibility if you manage to tear that open again.”
Touching his arm, Meryell squeezed it gently before saying, “I love you too, Dorian.”
“Maker save us from your foolishness, darling.”
Smiling, she stepped away from them towards Cassandra and asked, “Lead us out of here, Cass?” The older woman arched an eyebrow in response before she reached out and gave her a firm shove, right in the chest. Meryell staggered slightly as Varric snapped Seeker! but she quickly held out a hand towards him as she retained her balance. As she straightened back up, Meryell stepped up close into Cassandra’s space, looking right up at the taller woman as she hissed, “Satisfied?”
Smiling thinly, the warrior replied, “Well enough. Come.”
As she turned away, Dorian called out, “If she starts bleeding out, Cassandra, I hope you know that you are carrying her.”
“One would expect nothing less given that we have but you and Varric with us,” she called over her shoulder before she strode off back into the main part of the ruins. Meryell glanced at the other two, to see that Dorian looked slightly flabbergasted and Varric looked torn between amusement and exasperation, before setting off after the other woman. From behind her after a moment she heard Dorian ask a question.
“Was that…did she just imply that we were weak?”
“I believe she did, Sparkler.”
Chuckling briefly, Meryell pressed a hand against the rents in her leather armor and immediately sobered as that made pain lance across her side. They still had a ways to go to get to the cave that was supposedly the hiding spot for Hawke’s Warden friend.
She had to be careful.
“Are you aware,” Meryell began weakly as she limped slightly into the entrance of the cave, “that there are two Wardens sniffing around looking for a Warden Alistair who went against their Commander Clarel?”
Hawke jerked her head up from where she sat inside the entrance, half hidden behind a rock, and rushed immediately over to her. There was already energy gathering around the woman’s hands in the calming green of healing magic then she abruptly stopped, her expression twisting into a grimace as it faded away.
“We need to get you out of that armor,” she said. Then the other woman shook her head and replied, “Yes, yes, I’m aware. Bastards nearly came across me a time or two while I was making my way here.”
She then stepped forward, offering Meryell her arm, and said, “Come on, let me help you inside. Where’s everyone else?”
“Why making sure that the Wardens go off in an entirely different direction from us, dear Hawke,” drawled Dorian as he strolled into the cave. He then flicked both hands at them, saying, “Go on now and fix her up. I did what I could but between my lack of skill at healing and her stubbornness , she’s bound to have done something to hurt herself. I’ll bring the rest down when they make it here…assuming there aren’t any forks in this cave?”
Hawke scowled at Meryell, who just shrugged, then turned her head to address Dorian.
“Straight path. Tell Varric to use the Darktown knock when you get to the door. He’ll know the one I mean. Oh, and I’ll be sure to give her a good smack for you once I get her all healed up.”
The mage smiled, his moustache twitching, before he replied, “As much as I appreciate the gesture, I refuse the offer. I would rather like to hit her myself…but thank you.”
“No problem. I’m used to helping people hit the troublesome.”
Rolling her eyes, Meryell grumbled, “I’m glad you two are getting along so fucking swimmingly. And I will, to note, willingly take the hits after I’m healed.”
“At least you’re honest, darling,” murmured Dorian with a smile before he turned to face the cave entrance. Hawke smirked at his back for a moment before she tilted her head towards the darkness further into the cave, slowly taking a step forward.
“Come on,” she said gently and Meryell thought that her blue eyes had lost some of that natural flinty look. “It’s not far. We can steal Alistair’s bedroll and probably get you fixed up before they even get down there.”
Smiling, Meryell softly said, “I’m willing to take up that challenge,” as she began moving alongside the other woman. Hawke laughed quietly then they fell to silence as they made their way easily through what was a mostly dark cavern. At least she assumed it was for Hawke; Meryell could see where she was going half-decently. Though, by the time they reached the door at the end, which had a familiar bandit emblem that had been slashed through by a sword, she was definitely feeling the strain of what she’d been putting her body through over the past several hours.
Hawke rapped her knuckles against the door in a distinct pattern before she opened it without much of a preamble. Almost immediately Meryell caught the sound of steel being drawn, her ears twitching at the familiar noise, and she fought not to tense up. Logically she knew it was Hawke’s friend but she’d been taught to never relax when steel was out.
Not unless she knew absolutely the person who held it was a friend.
“It’s me!” called out Hawke as they eased through the door. As the mage closed it behind them, she added, “I’ve got the Inquisitor with me and she’s fucking hurt.”
There was an awkward scuff of boots against the dirt floor of the cave and then a blonde man in the Wardens’ trademark silver and blue came around a rock formation that made an almost wall separating one part of the cave from the other. Though he had his sword out still, the tip was lowered towards the floor, and she took that as a good sign and glanced at his face.
She knew from learning about the Blight in the years after it that Warden Alistair – technically Alistair Theirin according to all rumors and news that had come out of Denerim, though he’d never made any claim to the throne – was five, maybe six years her senior. It had to be the same Alistair; his whole face practically screamed Theirin bloodline (she’d seen King Cailan once or twice before he’d died, enough to recognize the same facial features). The small scar high on his left cheek, persistent stubble, and slightly jumpy nature fit into what she’d expected of a man on the run. What she hadn’t expected were the tight lines of pain at the corners of his eyes and mouth, a thing barely discernible unless one was used to seeing them.
And she’d gotten very used to seeing them on Cullen’s face.
“Maker’s breath,” he muttered before sheathing his sword and moving forward. As he took up the place on her other side, he asked, “What happened?”
“Rage demon,” grunted Meryell in reply as the hand he placed on her right hip came a little too close to the edge of the wound. “Killed it for a spirit.”
“I’m not certain I heard that right.”
Hawke snorted before replying, “I think we both did hear that right. Sounds like a fun story.” She then fell into that same no-nonsense tone that Gil got when she had a patient as she said, “Alright, let’s get this gear off before we start working.” Meryell felt her fingers run gently over her side, just a bare brush against the rents of her armor, and saw the grimace it instantly brought out. “I get the feeling pulling this off is going to reopen this wound. Sparkler’s shit at healing?”
As Alistair arched an eyebrow, mouthing Sparkler? to himself, Meryell answered the question.
“Healing arts tend to get all twitchy when you put them in the same hands that excel at necromancy. At least that’s what Dorian says.” Snorting, she added, “He’s really just never learned much healing. And everything he has has been recent.”
Hawke snorted at that before she said, “Alistair, keep a hold on her while I get this shit off. I don’t think she can stand on her own.”
“Probably fucking not,” admitted Meryell as the two of them rotated around her. Hawke moved to stand in front of her, fingers quickly going to the buckles on her dagger harness, as Alistair moved to stand behind her. He was close but it wasn’t an uncomfortable sort of closeness.
She did wish, however, that the hands resting on her hips were those of a different man.
Despite being a mage, Hawke had experience with armor and made very quick work of things. She also gave them respect: carefully bundling her daggers together with their harness and setting them aside and placing her heavy leather vambraces (which she’d started wearing after having her forearm torn open) on top of them. When she started working with the chest piece, though, she scowled.
As Hawke pressed a hand gently against her wounded side, she bid, “Lift your arm as far as you can.”
Meryell did as asked, raising her arm until the skin pulled tightly against her side. As she hissed a Fuck between bared teeth, Hawke tutted and pulled a knife from somewhere on her person. It was only the pain in her side that kept her from immediately trying to knock it out of the woman’s hand in instinctual reaction. That and her right arm was her main hand and it wasn’t going anywhere fast.
“Sorry, your Inquisitorialness,” apologized the mage, “but this armor has got to go.”
“Needed a new set anyway,” Meryell muttered. “Pretty sure baba and Cullen would argue that I’m more important than the armor.”
“I think the whole Inquisition might argue that.”
Behind her Alistair asked, “Cullen?” When Meryell turned her head to look at him in surprise while Hawke got to work, he added, “Cullen Rutherford?”
“Yes?” she replied warily, a little confused. Alistair and Warden Amell had been the ones to rescue Cullen but he’d told her one night that he hadn’t had much interaction with the mage. He’d never made mention of having known the other Warden at all and she didn’t think either of them would have gotten the last name of the – in his own words – half-raving madman he’d been then.
“We were trainees together in Denerim, though a year apart,” explained Alistair. “I remembered him after…after everything at the Tower. Never saw him that often and he completed training before I ever got close to being forced into vows but I remembered him.” He trailed off, his brows furrowed slightly, then went on, “I heard a lot of nasty rumors over the years. Killing mages, going on rampages, that sort of thing. Never believed it. Particularly not after I heard someone say he was ruling Kinloch with an iron fist in 9:34.”
Meryell started to open her mouth to state how ridiculous that was since Cullen had been in Kirkwall (and they had two people who could fucking confirm that) when Hawke laughed brightly. “Curly?!” she exploded, stopping in her work to separate the last bit of Meryell’s leathers. “Maker, even when I thought he had a stick up his ass, I wouldn’t have thought him capable of ruling with an iron fist. He may have been a bastard but he cared about the other templars.”
She then lifted her head with a laugh, shaking her head, before she quickly sliced away the last bit of leather clinging together. “We can chit chat about her dear Commander later,” she commented quickly. “Let’s get this armor off so I can look at this wound.”
Between the two of them they managed to get her armor off without jostling her arm or side too badly. Alistair stepped back then to set it off to the side, letting out a surprised noise and turning away with a bright blush as he looked back to find Hawke had wastes no time in cutting Meryell out of most of her tunic. They both grinned at his discomfort – though it also made Meryell miss Cullen and his awkward blushes – then Hawke steered her a few steps over to sit down on a bedroll before carefully lifting her arm.
“Can you hold it there?” she asked softly, her tone surprisingly gentle. As Meryell nodded in reply, Hawke smiled and quickly made several cuts to her tunic. Her work left only the section that was matted against the wound by blood behind as a focus. “Sorry about the shirt. We’ll steal one of Alistair’s.”
That made the Warden snort and he called out, “I heard that.” He then began bustling around the cave with his back still to them, digging up a pack that looked like it had seen better days. As he began pawing through it, Hawke smiled – and Meryell noticed that it was an expression that held more than simple fondness.
The mage then leaned forward, murmuring, “Deep breath,” before she began slowly peeling away parts of the shirt. After that, Meryell didn’t have much to think about other than the pain and clutching at her thigh with her free hand while she growled out almost every variation of curse word that she knew. Pain eventually muddled her thoughts so much that she lost track of what was going on around her except when Hawke began to heal the wound.
She was hazily aware when Alistair came back over and two pairs of hands slowly wrapped bandages around her now tender side. Hawke’s voice then murmured, “Come on now, lay down,” and Meryell lost the fight against unconscious and exhaustion that had been plaguing her.
When she woke back up, Cassandra was leaning against the wall next to her, armor loosened and sword laid across her lap in a half-doze. As soon as Meryell shifted, the warrior was wide awake and reaching out to touch her shoulder with a bare hand.
“Are you well?,” she asked softly. With the way she kept her voice low, it could only be guessed that the others were asleep.
Meryell nodded then moved to sit up as she quietly replied, “Fine. Need to piss like a bitch though.”
Cassandra let out a surely unintended snort of laughter at that, quickly covering it with a serious expression that said You did not hear that . “Quite fine then,” she commented dryly. The warrior then patted her shoulder and said, “Give me a moment and we will walk outside.”
“You’re gonna come with me and protect my bare ass?” asked Meryell wryly as the older woman rose to her feet, tightening the straps of her armor before she began buckling her sword back onto her belt. “Why, Cass, I didn’t think you cared quite that much about my ass.”
“You are certainly fine if you can not only curse but make commentary such as that,” Cassandra noted. She then smiled and said, “I protect you and you protect me. Is that not the way of us in battle?”
“Then why should it be any different outside of it?”
Meryell just blinked before laughing as Cassandra leaned down to carefully help her to her feet. As soon as she was standing, she briefly clasped the woman’s armored forearms, saying, “I’m trying to make you fucking blush and you just neatly brush it off and say something sweet .”
“It is not sweet . It is…practical.”
“Sweet,” argued Meryell with a smile. “Because you care.”
As the other woman let out a huff, she looked down and noticed that she wasn’t wearing anything from the waist up except bandages and her breastband. For a moment she considered stopping to try and find a tunic or even a cloak then shrugged it off. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d walked around in her under things.
Meryell checked to make sure her boots were still on – they were, though it looked like someone had loosened her lacings – then slowly made her way towards the entrance of the cave with Cassandra at her heels. She glanced around for everyone else as she went and found them scattered all around. Varric had propped himself against a wall with a view of the door, Bianca resting at his side with one hand on her stock and his other still holding a quill over ink-blotted parchment resting on his thigh. Apparently he’d fallen asleep writing. Dorian had settled several steps to the dwarf’s right, one knee drawn up to his chest so he could lean on it in sleep, and his staff leaning against his opposite shoulder with that arm looped around it.
What was a little surprising was where she found Hawke and Alistair.
The pair of them were sitting against the rocks in the center of the cave with Hawke on the side that was closest to where Meryell had been sleeping. Alistair was sitting with his head thrown back in a position that didn’t look all that comfortable but she imagined that Wardens got used to uncomfortable the same sort of way mercenaries did. Hawke had settled next to him with her head pillowed on his shoulder, her coat folded between her face and the armor, and looked perhaps the most at peace she had since they’d met. She also noticed that their hands were clasped together between them, resting on their touching thighs.
Smiling a little at the sight, Meryell then realized no one had been awake and turned to look at Cassandra. “No one’s on fucking watch?” she asked, more than a little surprised. Usually when they were out, someone was always on watch.
“It is my turn. And I was not asleep,” replied the warrior before she stepped past her to push open the heavy door. “Dorian also put down several of his alarms around the entrance to warn if anyone approached.”
“So safe enough.”
“Safe enough, yes.”
Nodding, Meryell moved on in silence. It didn’t take long for them to reach the cave entrance – certainly less time than it had taken to get to the end of the cave earlier – and she saw that it was still in the dark just before dawn. Not that that mattered really to elven eyes.
Those same eyes did, however, equip her to know that there wasn’t any shrubbery near the cave entrance within a stone’s throw.
Rolling her eyes, she grumbled a curse and heard Cassandra chuckle. When she turned to look however, the woman had her back to her, facing away from the cave entrance down the hill. Meryell shook her head and moved a little away from it (though not very far as she imagined Dorian had laid down his alarm spells fairly close), scuffing at the dirt with the heels of her boots until she had a decent hole. One unbuckling of her belt and wiggling out of her trousers, later she was stomping dirt back down into the spot and then heading back into the cave.
When they came back in, Alistair blinked himself awake and automatically reached for the sword resting on the ground next to him. Hawke came awake a moment later, her head jerking up as fire flared around her fingers, and a snarl on her face.
Suddenly Meryell wondered how many people the woman had killed who had come after her and her son.
“It is merely us,” called Cassandra as she shut the door back behind them. It still took a moment for the other two to relax and Hawke expelled the magic she’d gathered to summon several glowing wisps as light to supplement the slowly dying torches in the cave. “Our apologies for waking you.”
“No, no,” grumbled Alistair as he waved off the apology, lifting his hand to rub at his eyes, “it’s fine.” He then seemed to notice that his hand was entangled with Hawke’s and turned to smile at her, his expression tender. Hawke merely smiled, blushing brightly in response, before she pulled her hand away and rose to her feet as she slung her coat back on over her armor.
“Let me take a look at you,” she said in that no nonsense healer’s tone of voice. “You should be fine now but it’s always good to make sure. Especially with demons.”
Nodding, Meryell followed the other woman back over to the bedroll she’d ended up confiscating. As they sat down and Hawke began to unravel the bandages, she arched an eyebrow. “So,” she drawled lightly, “you have a thing for Wardens?”
The woman actually blushed before she said under her breath, “Apparently. I didn’t…it never started out as…this.”
“Never fucking does.”
“Speaking from current experience or past?”
Shrugging slightly, Meryell replied, “Both.” It wasn’t like the other woman hadn’t seen one of her past love affairs come rearing its ugly head up and realized where her current interest lay. She knew enough that Meryell didn’t mind answering honestly.
Hawke snorted at that and continued her work in silence for a long time, until she had all of the bandages unravelled. As she ran her hands over Meryell’s side, she softly said, “I’m not certain it’s worth it.”
Frowning because she wasn’t really used to heartfelt confessions like it seemed this moment was turning into, she asked, “Why? It’s not like we’re going to let the damned Wardens have him. I’ll tell ‘em myself that they can go suck a dick. I’m the fucking Inquisitor. I can do that sort of piss.”
That brought a laugh out of the other woman and she shook her head. “It’s not that. It’s…” Hawke took a deep breath before she continued, “Anders told me that Wardens get thirty years, give or take, before the t…before what makes them Wardens kills them.”
Nodding slightly while she processed that (which sounded like it was almost a Warden secret), Meryell mused, “And he’s the Alistair, right? From the Blight?” When Hawke nodded, her eyes focused on her work, she cursed under her breath. “Which means he’s already down ten years. Shit, I mean, that’s some heavy fucking bullshit but…that still leaves you twenty.”
“If that,” commented Hawke darkly.
“Maker’s aching cock, Hawke, none of us know if we’re going to even see the end of this.” Meryell gestured vaguely with her free hand – as she was keeping the other up and out of the mage’s way – as she continued, “Any of us could take a bad wound, could end up captured, could get knifed by some bugger with a grudge. Or just some random asshole who saw nice garb and a good coin purse. Fuck, Coryphishit could win .”
The other woman paused in her work and leaned back, staring at Meryell for a moment before she asked, “Is this supposed to be your fucking do it while you can or quit bitching speech?
“We can call it that. How’s my side?”
“Probably will be tender for a while longer but you’ll live.” Hawke then picked up a tunic that Meryell hadn’t noticed had been neatly folded and laid at the edge of the bedroll. As she took it, the other woman asked, “Is that how you view your relationship with Cullen?”
Freezing as she started to unfold the tunic, Meryell let out a slightly bitter laugh before saying, “I guess I deserved that.” She then quickly pulled the tunic over her head, feeling the new skin on her side pull slightly but not enough to cause pain with the motion, and smoothed it down. Judging by how it pooled in her lap, it was probably going to be about as long on her as Cullen’s training tunic had been. They did seem to be of the same height from what she’d observed of Alistair so far.
“Meryell, I didn’t…”
Holding up a hand to stall whatever the mage was going to say, she began, “As you can imagine from that shitshow you witnessed in the courtyard before we left, I’ve had piss luck with relationships. I don’t think…” Meryell paused and ran a hand through her hair before she went on. “Neither of us came into this thinking it was going to be anything but friendship.”
“Which obviously became something more,” commented Hawke.
“Despite both of us doubting ourselves the whole way,” pointed out Meryell sternly. When Hawke looked confused, she bluntly said, “We’ve both told ourselves shit for years that someone wouldn’t want us. Mostly for things we couldn’t control. And I knew after that nugshit went down with Camden that I couldn’t keep hiding what I felt. So did he.”
Slowly Hawke nodded and said, “Take the leap or quit your bitching.” Then she laughed before adding, “You’ve been good for the asshole, y’know. He’s far less of a prick than he was in Kirkwall.”
“Don’t think that was me, Hawke,” replied Meryell lightly. Cullen certainly hadn’t acted like a prick when she’d met him. Distant, slightly aloof, sure. Prick? Fuck, she’d known too many real pricks to put the description to the man. Then again, Hawke had seen him at some of his worst.
“Just take some fucking credit. Maker’s breath, neither of you can take credit worth shit .”
Laughing, she got to her feet and reached out for Hawke’s hand to help her up as well. As the mage took her hand, Meryell said, “Now that we’ve got me all healed up, we should get the actual conversation with your Warden started.” The other woman blushed before reaching out to punch her in the left shoulder.
“You watch out or I’m going to start making fun of you and Curly,” jibed Hawke as she pointed a finger at her.
Meryell just laughed as she started to walk back towards the main part of the cave where it seemed like Cassandra had roused everyone as she heard the sound of Dorian and Varric’s voices. Turning, she called over her shoulder, “You’d only be one more in the mix, Hawke. Now let’s get this shit started. I’d like to get back to Skyhold at some fucking point and out of this fucking shit weather.”
“Seeker Cassandra, where’s the Inquisitor?!”
At the sound of Charter’s concerned voice coming from above them in Caer Bronach, Meryell handed the reins of her Forder off and stepped out of the stables. She expected the panic to fade when the other elf noticed her but it only seemed to increase . Charter brushed past Cassandra at a pace that had the older woman’s eyebrows lifting and turning to follow her back down the stairs.
“Letter for you, ma’am,” Charter said shortly as she held aloft a rolled up bit of parchment. “The Nightingale marked it as urgent and sent a note that I was to have you riding back to Skyhold as soon as you made it back into contact.”
A thrill of concern went through Meryell at the words. Much as she and Leliana didn’t like each other, they’d garnered a similar sort of grudging respect as her and Chuckles had. And she knew well enough that the spymaster didn’t send out notes saying she was needed back immediately lightly.
“Is the letter from her or someone else?”
“I don’t know the seal,” replied the elf as she handed it over. “The Nightingale had her note wrapped around it and sealed with her own, so she approved it being sent.”
Meryell nodded slightly and turned it over, her heart instantly dropping to somewhere near her knees. The seal that had been pressed into the red wax that closed the parchment was from Folke’s coin, the old emblem of the Ferelden mabaris that was a near twin to the coin around her own neck (minus an Age or two). That wasn’t, however, what had her hands suddenly shaking as well.
There were also three marks around the seal, seemingly random scratches that were actually the simplistic version of the company codes for short communication.
“Swears?” she vaguely registered Varric saying as she broke the seal and frantically jerked it open upon seeing the last code. Meryell found Folke’s greeting at the top – his much-loved Poppet – and then skimmed down for other names, her mind whirling through the translations of the normal codes.
When she came across Cullen and lyrium attack , she nearly lost feeling in her knees. His headaches , she thought deliriously, remembering the last lyrium attack the company had witnessed amongst it’s own. Maker’s fucking cock, I should have known from his headaches getting worse.
“We have to go,” she managed, barely recognizing the sound of her own voice as it cracked slightly. “We have to go now. ”
“What is going on?” demanded Cassandra, having finally reached them. “Meryell?”
Looking up, Meryell met her friend’s eyes and breathed, “ Cullen .” The older woman instantly reached out towards her, hand gripping tightly at her elbow, and she hoped that her expression carried how dire this was. Mostly because she honestly didn’t think she could explain the danger without fucking it up or completely breaking down and being useless.
Cassandra must have seen something because she immediately snapped, “Charter. Find us fresh mounts and armor for the Inquisitor. And something less…flashy…for our Warden friend.”
Charter glanced at Meryell worriedly, obviously concerned, but didn’t ask questions. She merely saluted with a clasped hand over her heart then turned away to start shouting orders. As soon as she was gone, Cassandra said in a low voice, “We will go.”
Suddenly she was all too grateful that the Seeker knew about him stopping lyrium.
“What’s going on?” asked Hawke as she and Alistair exited the stable from behind Meryell.
“Something’s up with Curly,” replied Varric, actually sounding worried. As Hawke gasped, Meryell closed her eyes, clenched her fingers around the letter, and just tried to breathe .
Baba will keep him safe , she said to herself, drowning out the noise of the suddenly bustling stable and everything else around her except the sensation of Cassandra’s firm grip. The letter probably said the same, probably told her not to worry, but she didn’t have the energy to read it. All she could think of was losing him and it made her heart break.
Baba will not let him die.
He will not.